Amiensus – Reflections and AscensionsWednesday, 20th July 2016
It’s sometimes the bands that come out of nowhere with an exceptional release that seem to resonate the longest. An early find for this scribe using Bandcamp, Amiensus hit some initial high marks with their first full-length, Restoration. Harboring in a safe space that seemed to echo the movement of black metal acts like Agalloch, but hardly confined to it, there was an initial buzz that generated through word of mouth (or keystrokes) that immediately launched the band into a higher level for those looking for high quality US black metal.
Then came their second album, last year’s Ascension, which only furthered to toss more applause the band’s way. Taking black metal, progressive elements, death metal, and more, it took the necessary steps to avoid trapping the band into the black metal ethos and proving them as one of the more interesting underground acts. It also caught the attention of Apathia Records, for whom the band is now in the midst of recording a new EP (not to mention their recently released “Reflections” track). With all the commotion in the band’s vicinity, guitarist/vocalist James Benson (with assistance from bassist Todd Farnham) agreed to catch us up to speed with all things Amiensus.
Dead Rhetoric: Where’s the name Amiensus stem from?
James Benson: We get this question pretty often because Amiensus isn’t an actual word (Looking at you Webster’s, make this 2016’s word of the year!). So here is a more in depth answer than I’ve given in any interview before. I came up with the name my freshman year of college. I was looking at Wikipedia, reading historical pages for fun. I came across an image of the Amiens Cathedral, in Amiens, France. I really enjoyed the architecture of the structure, and at the time, the “pre-Amiensus” group was working on what later became our first release, The Last EP. The band at the time was called The Last. Aaron McKinney (clean vocals, acoustics) and Alec Rozsa and Zack Morgenthaler and I previously went under the moniker of The Last for several years, while we were basically a high school metal band.
The Last EP was our first “professional” release, meaning we didn’t produce it ourselves, and actually had someone else record/mix/master. So it felt like a big deal for us because we’d only ever had like 2 microphones, and audacity to record with. I came up with the adding the –US to Amiens during that time and we voted for it to be the name of the band we released it under. We entitled the album The Last EP to signify the former band becoming something new, and it being material of when we were The Last. It was shortly after/around this time that we added new members for the first time and started writing our first full length, Restoration.
Dead Rhetoric: You recently signed to Apathia Records. How’d the deal come about?
Benson: Whew. This has been a long time in the making. Back in about 2012, shortly after we finished the Restoration recordings, we asked Christophe Szpajdel to design what is now our logo. Christophe while designing it, and listening to the premastered Restoration tracks told us to contact his friends who run Apathia because he thought that both parties would mesh well together. Funny enough, Apathia took a listen to Restoration and passed on us back then! However, we kept in touch for the last 3 years, and after we released Ascension (on our own), we started talking more about releasing something. Eventually, things got serious, and as you know, we signed on for our next album!
Dead Rhetoric: As an independent band that was able to grab a higher profile (at least for an unsigned act within the extreme metal world) – what made you decide to start looking for a label?
Benson: To start, I’d say we are pretty self- sufficient. We take some pride in that initially, the 5 of us that wrote and recorded/released Restoration, and only stuck about $200 into that album’s creation, and have pretty much been able to pay for everything out of our “band fund” since then. However, I believe every band gets to a point when they need a little help. After we financed everything for Ascension, and then went on tour for the first time (actually our first shows period), we found that maybe we could use a little help with planning and logistics. We’ve worked with a few labels in the past, but usually those deals were pretty 50/50, meaning we’d split costs and production evenly.
Basically, we’re all adults, most of us work full time for a living, have expenses, ect…and to move the band further we needed someone to take reigns. I can only stop at the post office so many times before they want to throw me out for bringing 20 international packages, or before I’m burnt out on it. It is definitely a different step with Apathia then we’ve taken with labels in the past, but we’re hopeful because of our long-standing connection that they’ll take care of us and help us excel our musical career.
Dead Rhetoric: Along with that “buzz” that has been generated for the band, how much of a role has Bandcamp played in getting your name out there?
Benson: In the words of Donald J. Trump, YUUUGE (Note we do not support any particular candidate as a band). This band would not be where it is without Bandcamp. I’d say that about 85% of our revenue has come from it. The downside being that you split payment with it and Paypal, the benefit being that our listeners can stream the whole album before buying and we can name our own price for albums. We try to give a lot of music away for free, and price digital albums at half of what a physical album costs (which to us, only makes sense, you don’t get all the artwork and lyrics and more!).
Dead Rhetoric: Were you ever surprised by how far you were able to come, just on your own merits and word of mouth?
Benson: We were extremely surprised that within the first few months after our release of Restoration that we started getting ANY following. Facebook is no longer a great measuring tool for success, but we maybe had 150 fans on our page at the time we released Restoration. Seriously, it was just our friends and family at that point who knew us from high school and college. Seeing that number explode as people reviewed our music was astonishing. We didn’t promote it hardly, mostly just over our personal Facebook pages and Reddit. Of course, we’ve had a lot of help from blogs and sites like your own, NCS, and Metalsucks!
Dead Rhetoric: What inspired the release of the “Reflections” single?
Benson: Well for one, I was really passionate about this song. It was written before most of Ascension, not long after we released Restoration. Zack and Alec wrote the guitar, and then Alec, Aaron, and Julia and I did vocals. The demo was constantly stuck in my head but ultimately it was axed during our Ascension demoing because it was a little unlike the rest of the album/some members at the time didn’t really like the “happier” vibe it puts out. Fortunately, the group now is very happy with it and we really enjoy playing it live.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about the cover photo for the “Reflections?”
Todd Farnham: The photo for Reflections is actually a photo that I took back in high school for a Black and White Photography class. The photo is of the Minnehaha Falls at Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis (MN). The only print of it that I made in class was turning yellow though, so I had to figure out where I could take 35 MM film to be digitized inexpensively, which was a bit of a chore, haha. At that point, I turned it over to Zack (Morgenthaler, guitars), who did the final editing/graphic design, and the cover that you see is the final product.
Dead Rhetoric: You have been teasing some information about being in the studio lately – can we expect a few new tracks in the near future?
Benson: Yes! We signed with Apathia because we are going to be releasing an EP in Early 2017. It’s almost hard to call it an EP. We’ve set out to write an EP about 3 times in this band’s history and pretty much every time we have, we’ve instead just released a full length because we write too much. On top of that, we’ll be releasing a split late 2016/early ’17 with the band A Hill to Die Upon, whom we’ve known for awhile. I’m pretty confident in the new material, being that it’ll be a smaller sample size we’ve chosen to focus more on our black metal influences for this release. We want to be able to play all of these songs live as well.
Dead Rhetoric: You have also been teasing a new tour within the works. How much time and effort goes into the planning of a tour for a band of your size?
Benson: While responding to these questions I’ve been working on it all morning. Lets just say, I probably have spent 20-40 hours a month since March trying to get all the details together. Not including the practicing and such, and I’m not the only one doing that much work. A lot of it is hit or miss emailing, phone calls, Facebook messaging, and just communicating.
Dead Rhetoric: Any details you can give about this upcoming tour?
Benson: We’ll have a tour announcement coming pretty soon with all the details! For one, we are not touring with an even somewhat black metal sounding band this time!
Dead Rhetoric: Members from Amiensus branch out into a number of other bands in the area as well. How’s Minnesota’s metal scene looking?
Farnham: Opinions on the scene can be a bit tense or bitter at times, in my friend group at least, because a significant portion of national/international shows have pre-sale ticket quotas, which many consider to be pay to play shows. These shows also tend to favor young bands, primarily of the djent, metalcore, or deathcore scene, which leaves most of the underground scene high and dry, although I suppose that’s why it’s the underground scene, haha. For most bands that don’t fit that image, the only way to thrive is to play a lot of out of town shows, which comes down to either weekend warriors or tours. That isn’t to say that the Minnesota metal scene is lacking in good music though. We do have a ton of very talented musicians, and there are some killer bands. Some of my personal favorites are Zebulon Pike, Sunless, Pestifere, and Deterioration, although I’ve played with so many talented local bands that it’d take forever to list all of them.
Benson: Being that Amiensus originated mostly in Rochester (though two members are in St Paul now), we really were disadvantaged to start breaking into our own scene as there is almost no local metal scene in Rochester, which is only about 115k people. Todd and I both being in other bands currently (Todd – Invidiosus, James – Fail to Decay/Adora Vivos), have played a lot of the more underground or DIY venues around Minnesota, which we both thoroughly enjoy, albeit as Todd answered, we recognize the scene is geared towards types of music and business we’d rather not do. Typically I find Wisconsin which is just an hour away, to be a little bit more vibrant of a scene, though possibly a bit smaller. That being said, there are a ton of awesome bands in Minnesota we’ve played with, but in particular have become pretty great friends with, such as Oak Pantheon, Ashbringer, and Upon His Flesh.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been on tour, you’ve released two full-length albums, and have signed with a label? What’s the next foreseeable goal for Amiensus?
Benson: We’d really like to go across the pond. We feel at least 50% of our fanbase lives abroad, and we’ve had requests/some offers to come to Europe thus far. We want to make that a reality. More than anything, we just want to play our music in new places. If people want to see us, we’ll come.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s the future bring for Amiensus?
Benson: In the next year we will release a split, an EP, and then focus on a little bit more touring, including as I said, some touring outside of the US/Canada.